Exposé Online banner

Billy Cobham — Shabazz
(Wounded Bird WOU 8139, 1975/2006, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2018-02-08

Shabazz Cover art

In 1974, drummer Billy Cobham took advantage of a break in activity for Mahavishnu Orchestra by putting together a band to play Montreux and other shows in Europe. His band included the musicians who had worked on his most recent studio album, Total Eclipse, three of whom he’d worked with in his pre-Mahavishnu band Dreams: John Abercrombie on guitar and the Brecker brothers Michael and Randy on sax and trumpet respectively. The crucial role of bassist went to Alex Blake, better known on upright, but a killer here on electric; Bulgarian Milcho Leviev, a long-time member of Don Ellis’ band, handled keyboards; and on trombone he had Glenn Ferris, another Don Ellis sideman. This band is in absolute top form for the four tracks on Shabazz, three of which were recorded at the Rainbow Theatre in London, and the other at the 1974 Montreux Music Festival. The title track kicks things off with a brief drum solo followed by more than ten minutes of intense ensemble work ranging from subtle latin-inflected grooves to high-energy funk. Abercrombie goes crazy with fills in between the ensemble parts, Randy Brecker’s trumpet is treated with wah-wah and other effects, and Leviev turns in some outstanding work on the keyboards, from funky clavinet to cool electric piano to a superb synthesizer solo that combines flashy licks with imaginative knob-twiddling. And behind it all, Cobham and Blake show themselves to be one of the great jazz-rock rhythm sections, balancing freedom with tight grooving. Cobham’s playing is the combination of technical busy-ness and perfect feeling that he’s known for. The next two tracks are revised versions of “Taurian Matador” and “Red Baron,” both of which appeared on Spectrum. The first features Michael Becker on sax backed by a funky beat that’s about as fast as funk can get and still be funky. The second gives Abercrombie a solo spot, where he mutates the blues into something amazing and distinctively his own. Jazz-rock in the 70s is generally thought of as a small group phenomenon, but Cobham’s masterful arrangements make it work with a larger ensemble, with creative harmonies and precise playing. Looking back from a few decades on, it’s no surprise that Cobham, Abercrombie, and the Breckers shine, but the real revelation here is how good Leviev and Blake are. Leviev has numerous credits as a leader and as a sideman with many other artists, but this set proves he deserves to be counted with Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, and the rest of the greats of the heyday of fusion. Blake is a great example of a jazz bassist who brought a distinctive voice to the electric, with a gritty, growly tone and a perfect feeling for the funky energy Cobham needed. Shabazz is a great sounding recording for both performance and audio quality, and deserves a place as one of the best live fusion albums of the 70s.


Filed under: Reissues, 2006 releases, 1975 recordings

Related artist(s): Billy Cobham, John Abercrombie, Randy Brecker

Latest news

2020-12-09
Harold Budd RIP – Harold Budd, one of pre-eminent American composers of avant-garde and minimalism, has died of complications from the coronavirus. Budd came to prominence in the 70s, championed by Brian Eno on his Obscure Records label, with music that blended academic minimalism with electric jazz and electronic music. Much of Budd's best known work was done in collaboration with other artists, including Eno, Daniel Lanois, Robin Guthrie, Andy Partridge, John Foxx, Jah Wobble, and many others. » Read more

2020-11-20
25 Views of Worthing Finally Gets Released – A while ago, we wrote about the discovery of a "long lost" Canterbury-style gem by a band called 25 Views of Worthing. And now we're pleased to find out that Wind Waker Records has released their music on an LP. » Read more

2020-10-14
Audion Is Back in Business – Our esteemed colleague Alan Freeman has restarted Audion Magazine after a seven year hiatus. The new incarnation is available online on their Bandcamp site. Audion's history goes back to 1984, and included 58 issues up to 2013. Issue #59 is available now, and #60 is in the works. » Read more

2020-10-06
Romantic Warriors IV – Krautrock (Part 2) Is in the Works – Zeitgeist Media, the people who have brought us the great series of documentary films chronicling the history of progressive rock, are working on the second installment of their examination of German music. Krautrock 2 will focus on artists from Münich such as Guru Guru, Amon Düül II, Xhol Caravan, Kraan, Witthüser & Westrupp, and Popol Vuh. » Read more

2020-09-09
Simeon Coxe RIP – Simeon Coxe, best known for his experimental electronics in the band Silver Apples, has died at the age of 82. The band's 1968 debut album set the stage for both German electronic music and experimental punk music a decade later. Coxe died on September 8 from pulmonary fibrosis. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Mangala Vallis - Lycanthrope – From the opening rip of “Watcher of the Skies,” Mangala Vallis is here to tell you they are back and have been listening to their favorite prog albums again. With all the classic sounds...  (2006) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues